I’d like to tackle that question today.
The wounderful* fundamentalist church in which I was reared placed too much focus on motives (*not a misspelling). “Check your motives. Check your heart. Have a clean heart.”
My Inner Inquisitor had a field day with that. My motives scarcely measured up to the standard of purity I thought Jesus required. When I looked within, I saw a simmering stew of jumbled desires and mixed motives. Even when I was at my best and even when I was obeying God, my motives remained impure. This, I thought, negated any value my good works and my life might have had–only compounding my sense of spiritual worthlessness. But that’s not all it did.
It produced a spirituality of morbid introspection. Not a healthy thing. The question of motives and the doubts over whether I am walking in the Spirit or not, paralyzed me.
I advocate a policy of benign superficiality when it comes to motives. Really. I’m not kidding. The more we dig into our own motives and the more we inspect our
[Pause: my five year old son just asked, “Dad, do numbers just keep on going?” Sheer genius, wouldn’t you agree? I answered yes. He replied, “Wow. That’s a lot.”]
own spirits the more self-absorbed and either self-justifying or self-denigrating we become.
Yes, I know that David and others looked within. So do I. Contemplation/meditation is a bona fide part of the spiritual life. It is not ultimately a voyage into inner space, but a voyage into God’s heart through the Scriptures. Self-examination plays a part, but only a bit part–and only for a cameo appearance.
You cannot, in the short term, control, your motives. You can control your choices. You can, in the long term, modify your motives through Scripture and prayer. That is where our focus should be. Until our motives catch up, we should obey God anyway, regardless of motives.
David’s introspection lasted about five seconds. Watch how fast he moves from looking within to looking to God.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.” Psalms 43:5, NKJV.
If I ask God to fill me with his Spirit, I take him at his word that he does. What if my motives are impure? If I’m aware of the impurity, I confess it to God as a sin.
If I’m not aware of impure motives, I don’t launch an inner hunting expedition for unknown sins. Doesn’t the Holy Spirit know how to bring to mind the sins he wants you to confess? Confess your known sins in a humble attitude, and bring them to the Cross. Leave them there. Ask God to fill you. Move on. Let your motives catch up later.
In the words of an old Scottish preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, FOR EVERY LOOK AT SELF, TAKE TEN LOOKS AT CHRIST.